Brownlow Medal favourite Nat Fyfe was reported and North Melbourne cemented their grip on a finals berth in a dramatic 11-point win over Fremantle at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The Kangaroos were outplayed in the first quarter but worked their way back into the game before storming home with a late blitz that secured the 14.10 (94) to 12.11 (83) win.
In a blow to his Brownlow Medal hopes, Fyfe was reported after he clattered into tagger Ben Jacobs and made high contact from front-on as both players went for a loose ball in the third quarter.
North coach Brad Scott hailed the maturity and poise of his players for holding their nerve after the Dockers’ opening salvo.
“Any time you play the top team on the ladder and you’re 24 points down at quarter-time, if you get over the line it’s generally a win full of character,” Scott said.
“I’m pleased that the players and coaches were able to maintain the faith.”
Todd Goldstein battled Aaron Sandilands all afternoon in a fascinating ruck duel but bobbed up with two crucial goals – including the last major of the game.
Brent Harvey finished with four goals, while Andrew Swallow, Ben Cunnington and Nick Dal Santo were important through the middle in the absence of suspended onballer Jack Ziebell.
With skipper and leading goal-kicker Matthew Pavlich out with an Achilles injury, Fremantle kicked seven goals in the opening term but struggled to find reliable avenues to goal from then on.
Lachie Neale provided the spark for the Dockers in the first quarter with 12 possessions and finished with 29 touches, while Sandilands had 43 hitouts and also kicked a couple of goals.
Fyfe struggled to shake Jacobs at times and didn’t have his usual influence.
The Kangaroos’ intensity around the contest lifted sharply in the second term and they made it harder for Ross Lyon’s men to transition quickly through the middle, with Michael Walters kicking their only goal as the margin narrowed to 13 points at halftime.
The quality of the football after the restart wasn’t befitting two sides with lofty ambitions but the scrap suited North who clawed the deficit back to six points.
Jon Griffin stood tall to mark and kick the first goal of a frantic final term but the Kangaroos surged to the lead with the next three before holding out the ladder leaders.
“It was a frustrating day,” Lyon said.
“I thought we had plenty of opportunities to be in a more commanding position.
“I thought in the third quarter … we should have gone three or four goals up, (but) it was just comedy capers or turnovers, missed handballs, misses (for goal) from 20m, dropped marks, kick-ins over the line – in the end it takes a bit of a toll.”